Songwriters Strike a Discordant Note Over Control of Their Music

Knowledge@Wharton: Set the backdrop as to how this decree came into play and why the U.S. Justice Department is looking to make this change.

Lawrence Gelburd: Let’s start with copyright. When you’re part of a team that writes a song, or maybe you’re the sole songwriter, you initially have a set of copyrights and there are multiple rights. One is to have the song performed on the radio. There are mechanical license rights. So you own the right to say, “You can make a physical copy,” like a CD or an LP, and sell it. You also have sync license.

So you have the right as the copyright owner to give someone who’s making a film or a motion picture access to use your song legally in conjunction with that picture.

There are also grand rights for theatrical performances and print rights.This copyright that you own is a set of rights, one of which is the right for performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. They collect money, for example, from terrestrial radio, so that’s their focus. And they have strength in numbers. ASCAP has almost a half-million members, and BMI is quite large as well.

Source: Knowledge@Wharton

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